Dealing with difficult people in your meeting

Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at planning your meeting, and running and reflecting on your meeting.

This week’s post is a more detailed look at dealing with difficult people in your meeting.

Executive Coach Exchange sheep pixabay malcolumbus
Don’t assume that everyone in your meeting will follow the flock.

It can be useful to think of your meeting attendees in 3 main groups.

  1. The disruptive

There are a number of factors which may lead meeting attendees to disrupt the agenda.

Some people will seek to dominate the meeting, out of habit or because they don’t recognise your authority or the validity of other viewpoints.  If this happens, it will mean that your voice and the voices of other attendees are not being effectively heard.

It’s your meeting – it’s important to enforce time limits, call for other points of view and actively manage someone who is dominating the discussion. Don’t let them become your focus; others in the room will want your meeting to be successful. If you keep focusing on the disruptive, you will give them control of the agenda.

Others will argue with the points you’re putting forward and it’s important to make an assessment of why this is happening.  We’ve written previously about the importance of distinguishing between obstructionists and sceptics, and embracing the genuine sceptics.  Part of this work will have to happen outside the meeting, but meetings themselves are a valuable source of information about the motivations of those who disrupt them.

Don’t expect to turn around disruptive behaviours in one session, but a consistent, assertive approach will see you getting your meetings back on track.

2. The disengaged

Bored? Distracted? Negative? Looking for a way out? Or uncomfortable with conflict?

It’s critically important not to just call out or disparage the disengaged as you risk causing someone who was temporarily distracted, unhappy or unconvinced, to move towards being a member of the disruptive group.

You also don’t know whether they are keeping a low profile due to conflict with other meeting attendees, or because their management’s viewpoint is not aligned with yours.

In our previous posts on meetings, we talked about planning for breaks to allow people to recharge and manage their distractions.  If you’ve done this and people are still appearing to be switched off, or holding side conversations, you need to take responsibility for bringing the focus of the distracted back to the meeting without engaging in personal criticism.

You may need:

  • to make a genuine call for input;
  • to allow time on the agenda for this group to present their opinions formally;
  • or it may be that you need to take tighter control of the agenda because this group has switched off – potentially because the disruptive group is dominating the conversation in a way that makes them uncomfortable or even distressed.

If you can gain understanding of whether the disengagement is due to personal or professional reasons, and whether it’s temporary or ongoing, you can address disengagement appropriately, maintaining the respect of the disengaged individuals and the group as a whole.

Most importantly, in planning for and dealing with the disruptive and the disengaged, don’t forget a third group:

3. Your supporters

Sometimes when the disruptive and the disengaged are taking up a lot of time and focus, it’s easy to take your supporters for granted.  However, you need to minimise the distractions posed by the other groups as it’s your supporters who will help you move through your agenda and achieve your goals.

In our change management series, we also wrote about looking at the motivations of your supporters.  When you are trying to achieve change through meetings, it’s important to understand why your supporters support you and to ensure you’re managing their concerns and interests appropriately, so that their support for you and your goals continues.

An executive coach can work with you to understand the motivations of your meeting group, work through scenarios and practice assertiveness skills to ensure that your meetings achieve your goals no matter who attends.

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